The Kings are a remarkably consistent team. Their lineup rarely changes, except when someone gets hurt. They don’t even shift up their forward lines all that often. That’s only partly why I don’t feel so bad having left you in the dark for a couple of weeks while I attended to family duties in Mexico City and then took in the Yuletide festivities happening in Toronto, where my dad now lives.
But just to get you caught up a little bit, the Kings played in their tenth game since mid-December on Thursday night, when the New York Rangers came to town for the first time since losing the Stanley Cup in five games, in this building, back in June.
In that ten-game stretch, the LA team started out with a loss, then won three of four with one OT game thrown in, then lost again, then went to OT twice in three games and won the other. They then faced the Rangers in an eventual 4-3 loss. Put in points terms, the Kings took 11 of 20 possible points coming into Thursday, and left the day exactly that way.
Perhaps more important, in all that time, they didn’t do anything to improve their goal differential number, which is so often looked at these days (I’ve been doing this for years—check my old stories if you like). That is, in the nine games coming into Thursday, the Kings had scored thirty goals. Their opponents? Thirty goals. But it is perhaps notable that the numbers are higher on average than is typical for this team, but then again, that’s a bit skewed by the fact that they went to the wall with Nashville last weekend and ended up losing 7-6. They were down 6-3 with a couple of minutes to go, and ended up knotting the game in the last 2:01. Add in the Rangers’ game, and it was 33 for and 34 against. Just about dead even.
Their goal diff now is eight, which is equal to or better than all but one in their Division (Vancouver, at 12) but far worse than that of any of the top teams in the other Division of the Western Conference. Weird, but the top three teams in the Central are Nashville at plus-29, Chicago at plus-37, and St. Louis at plus-25. No other team in the entire league, save Tampa Bay at plus-28, is even in the picture. What’s up with the Central? That’s a story for another time.
So for the Kings, who’s playing and who’s not? Well, pretty much the same ones who were (and weren’t) a month ago. That is, the scratches against the Rangers were Andy Andreoff and Jordan Nolan amongst the forwards and Brayden McNabb on Defense. Listed as on IR is Slava Voynov (I think we all know who is really injured there) and Robyn Regehr.
McNabb had played every game until he was hurt against San Jose late in December, and he then missed a game, played one (though getting just nine minutes), and then has missed the last three. Regehr has been off with a finger injury for about three weeks. He was hurt December 18th in St. Louis, but he is now practicing with the team on a limited basis.
And how did this consistent team do against the Rangers, who, truth be told, were essentially their dead-even match coming into the night? The Kings entered with 48 points, the Rangers with 47. Each squad was number one in their conference’s wildcard race. But wait. The Rangers had played three fewer games. And their goal differential was way better than LA’s with a plus-26. OK, OK, how’d they do?
The Rangers came out slowly, having expended a lot of energy in beating the Ducks 4-1 24 hours earlier. The Kings scored at just past four minutes and just under six. Each goal was the result of the Rangers standing still while the home team skated past them. The first saw Carter burst into the zone on the right hand side, hold the puck and go way low, and swing it out to Pearson for a tap-in at the edge of the crease.
Goal two came when Williams moved in right wide and slapped one past second-year NHL goalie Cam Talbot. It was a nice shot, but one the goalie’s got to have.
Jonathan Quick did him much better as the puck went up the other way on a play shortly after. Derek Stepan passed it over to Chris Kreider, who swatted a swift shot at the net. Quick did the full splits and got across to the puck.
But the Rangers undid that momentum shortly after when they went on the power play. Five seconds later, or as long as it took to drop the puck and have it fed back to the point, then blasted to the net and in, and the game was 2-1.
Period two saw them come on, scoring twice quite quickly and three times overall, so that with over half the period left on the clock, they had just 13 shots, and four goals. The Kings, by contrast, had two goals on fourteen. The period wound down with the home team outshooting the visitors by one, but the score still at 4-2 for the Rangers.
Perhaps the worst thing for the Kings personnel would have been to look at a scoresheet and see that they’d allowed four consecutive goals after their quick start. Likely it bugged them that after each Rangers goal, a good deal of loud cheering ensued. (Where were you people last June when your team was being spanked in the Finals?)
If the Rangers were tired, they didn’t show it as the game wore on. The Kings, meanwhile, should have been fresh. They last played Saturday, then had both Sunday and Tuesday off. Between, they’d registered what the players said were good practices, and they came in feeling confident.
Period three would be the test of their ability to come back. They’d done it against Nashville, as noted. Would they repeat? Nope. They did get a late goal, with 4:03 left, and then pulled the netminder with about a minute. On that chance, Rick Nash took a penalty with 36 seconds to go, and the puck was around the Rangers’ net, but it didn’t go in.
The result points to a trend that is particularly un-Kings-like. To whit: they have played in twenty one-goal games thus far this year (that’s about half of their contests). They’ve won just five of those. This, remember, the team with the coach who calls the NHL a “3-2 league,” and means to have the three goals most nights. One-fourth of the time, and that only, has that worked this year.
Another anomaly—the team has been up by two goals five times this season in what ended up being a losing effort. In short, these two factoids suggest that LA is in no way playing the defensive game they always have, since Sutter got to town. And it’s obvious by looking at how they play in their own end to show that, let alone what the scoresheet and results sheet says.
Can they turn it around? They’ve got to, because they’re just holding on, and blew a chance to move up into a tie with both Vancouver and San Jose in their Division.
In off-ice news, Coach Sutter has been asked to bench boss the All-star game in Columbus in a couple of weeks. He’s said he’ll do it. This, of course, comes as the privilege of the man who wins the Stanley Cup as coach. His assistants in LA, Davis Payne and John Stevens, will be accompanying him.
If you’ve got an Amazon gift card to use, how about my new book, Facing Wayne Gretzky? It’s about $20 on that site.